Jaedyn Shaw: Inside the rise of the NWSL's teenage star set for USWNT honors

It’s no surprise to hear that Ann Shaw’s phone rings a lot. After all, her daughter, Jaedyn, is one of the most talented teenage soccer players on the planet. She’s the second-youngest player to ever feature in the NWSL, the top league in the United States, and one of only two to have scored in their first three games in the division.

Ann has been ever-present throughout Jaedyn’s rise to the top, at every game, wherever that might be, while also home-schooling her since fourth grade. Everyone wants to know how she did it.

But when people phone her for advice, there’s no big secret for her to share, no magic formula.

“Let me tell you something,” she tells those who want tips and tricks. “Everyone wakes up every morning and wants their kid to be the light of the world, but it will come with sacrifices and emotional rollercoasters that some of you will not be ready for.”

When NXGN rings and adds to that call log, Ann can’t emphasise her point enough.

“Sacrifice is really the primary reason, I think, why some of these athletes get the opportunity that they do and carry the humbleness and work ethic that they do, because of the things that we've had to sacrifice,” she explains.

“Just being really transparent, there was a year or two where all four of us lived in a one bedroom apartment to be able to afford for her to go out of town, out of state, out of the country. My husband and I set our lives on the backburner - no vacations, no honeymoon, no nothing - in order for us to be able to handle the financial burdens that came with the opportunity.

“I knew this was God's purpose for her so a lot of it, as well, came with trainers, elite trainers, that charged us nothing because they knew she was so special. They knew that she would eventually build their business rather than take away from it. [It was] a mix of a lot of people's kindness and a mix of our sacrifices, financially.”

She pauses. Then, without a trace of doubt in her voice, she adds: “It all was worth it now that I look back.”

It all started when Jaedyn was just two years old. While her older sister was playing soccer, she was running around and trying to play, too, so much so that her mother would sign her up for a team. It wasn’t much later that her talent became apparent.

“It was almost like a... I don't want to say a weird gift but when you're playing the sport you know the sport, you know how to touch the ball, you know how to trap the ball and all these things,” Ann, who played when she was a young girl, recalls. “When she would do those things, it almost looked like an adult in a four-year-old's body.

“Everything she learned was very quick. She'd just pick it up and do it exactly the way she'd see it. It was interesting. That's just kind of how we knew that this was her.”

Jaedyn spent those formative years with Solar Soccer Club in a team that featured current University of Texas stars Trinity Byars and Alexis Missimo, coached by the latter’s father, Derek.

“I used to call her 'little one',” he laughs. Indeed, Ann is still saved in his phone as ‘Little One’s Mom’. “She's a year and a half younger than Lex and Trinity, so she was the littlest of the littlest. You could just see the love of the game by her, instantaneously.

“Certain kids jump off the page. The first thing you see is the athleticism and the technical and tactical ability, but people always underestimate the importance of aptitude, the ability to take direction, the ability to drill down and be specific on what the instructions are coming in. She always had that attention to detail.

“I can tell you, unequivocally, every time Jaedyn stepped on the field, she was there to work - and it showed. She put the work in and she would be there early, with the special girls, and they would be late. They'd be the last ones you had to pull off the field - and you literally had to pull them off the field because, in our club, fields are such a premium.

“She was just a junkie on working and that's what great players are, right? That's a differentiator. They have talent and they have work ethic.”

Solar was not the only place where Jaedyn showcased her talent in her younger years. One day, she was watching FC Dallas’ boys’ academy team play and, even while just messing around with a ball at the side of the field, she caught the eye of a coach named Jesse Suarez.

He called Matt Grubb, the academy director on the girls’ side of the club. “You’ve got to come and see this kid,” he said.

Jaedyn would soon join Dallas and be playing up a year, then up two years and then up three years. She'd also train with the boys and was doing a lot of work in her own time, too, including private lessons with former pros turned coaches.

“For me, the biggest differences were her ideas on the ball and her ability to come up with solutions to problems that no one else could,” Grubb, who would coach Jaedyn for three years at Dallas, tells NXGN. “Her mannerisms, her comfort with both feet... It was just a different level.

“She was very young and a little bit undersized, as you can imagine when playing up so many years, but she dealt with it really well.

“When you're so used to being able to do everything all the time and be successful in your own age, that confrontation of adversity and having to utilise other players and play more with your brain than with your athleticism or your technical ability… I think that was the biggest growth that we saw, combining and making others better.

“The last year that she played with our group [players born in 2001 - three years above her age group], I think she had 29 goals and another 20 assists or something. I would say that was the biggest development piece, the maturation of understanding of what the game required of her and then how to overcome it.

“The other thing that I saw was that she became more of a team-oriented player. I've always found that the best players are those that make everyone around them better and they stand out more. She became one of those players.”

It was all moving in a very positive direction for this young forward. Her development was going brilliantly, she had started to represent her country at youth level and she was getting opportunities abroad, too.

When she was just 14 years old, she was invited to train with Paris Saint-Germain. Her mother describes it as one of her favourite memories from her daughter’s journey, up there with a trip to Barcelona the two enjoyed for a Futsal World Cup four years prior.

Both experiences added a touch of reality to this dream of reaching the top. “That is not something that is just on the other side of the TV screen. It is real,” Ann says as she recalls the trip to Spain, visiting Camp Nou and being able to touch the famous pitch.

The visit to France, though, would take on further meaning when Jaedyn hit a serious setback at the age of 16. She tore her ACL.

“I think when it really hit Jaedyn was when she came out of surgery," her mother remembers. “She finally had a visual of both her legs and she just saw how her thigh muscle had basically shrunk to nothing. I think at that point, she just kind of was just completely heartbroken.

“But, as heartbroken and shocked as I was as well, I just told her: 'Jaedyn, this is a part of what God has to write into your life. You're not only going to touch people that are healthy and great at this game, but you're going to touch a lot of people that are coming back from injury. They need to see and hear from you'.

“There were girls all over the nation DMing her, asking her questions, advice, everything about her journey, her therapy, all that. It was true. It was true to a tee what God was doing with this injury. I just kept telling her, 'This has to happen. This has to happen in your journey'.

“She just took it as fuel and she just ripped through her therapy, ripped through her healing process like it wasn't anything.

“She was so much stronger, both mentally and emotionally as well. Her gratitude, not that she wasn't grateful from the beginning of who she was, but there was a different layer, a different sense of gratitude for who she is and the position that God put her in.”

"I was so proud of her," Missimo adds, several times, when he recalls the setback. “How do you deal with adversity? How do you champion that adversity and turn it into a positive? She did all the above,” he remembers. “She's a special young lady.”

Jaedyn had committed to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill when she was just 14 years old, but her injury impacted her thinking.

The time spent with PSG had “planted a seed for her to want to go pro early”, Ann says, but now she had more motivation to make that step. “Because then you understand that, at any given time, your career can end.”

After some time training with the Washington Spirit, Jaedyn signed a professional contract with the San Diego Wave in July 2022

It didn’t surprise her coach at youth national team level, Tracey Kevins, at all. “I think if we look at Jaedyn across her whole career, actually, she's never taken the easy option,” she explains. “She's always really looked for challenging environments.

“She's never wanted to be the best player and just be in amongst her age group and be content with that. It was always really about challenging herself, whether it was playing up against girls three or four years above her age, or whether it was playing against boys. She was always really looking at environments that would provide her the best challenge for her to be able to improve and express her talent.

“I think her taking that step towards the NWSL was just so obvious because we knew that she was always going to be looking at what would be the next step, the next challenge. She is a player that embraces that sort of challenge. You can see she's been unfazed even with her moving into the pro environment.”

That’s an understatement. Thirteen days after signing that contract, Jaedyn made her NWSL debut and scored.

When she came back from the Under-20 Women's World Cup, she played her second league game and scored again. Eight days later came appearance number three and, you guessed it, goal number three.

It was at this time that everything really hit home. Ann was travelling up to see her brother in Chicago and she got a text. It was from the media staff in San Diego. They wanted to do an interview with Jaedyn’s family, together. ‘How do you feel about it?’ they asked. Ann burst into tears.

“I just couldn't believe it,” she remembers. “I just couldn't believe what was going on. I was crying and I couldn't understand why I was crying but I was crying. I think the balloon had burst of, 'This is really happening'.”

Kevins, again, was not surprised as she watched this teenage talent soar in one of the world’s best leagues. “That speaks volumes for what Jaedyn is, that she grabs those sorts of opportunities and she's really just embraced that,” she says. “For her, it's making good use of [that] and who she plays with. But she is so willing to learn from others.

“She spends a great deal of time speaking with the senior players at Wave and learning from them. Her ability to keep wanting to learn is what gives her such a high ceiling.”

It’s quite an attitude to have when you're around so much top talent. Few names jump off the Wave's roster, though, quite like that of Alex Morgan, the U.S. women's national team star. Often enough, she and Jaedyn make up two thirds of the team's attacking trident.

“She cites Alex a lot as someone who's just been just a great resource for her,” Kevins explains. “We were talking about it in camp recently and Jaedyn recalled the first moment she met Alex. Alex kind of bowled straight up to her in the training ground and introduced herself. Jaedyn was like, 'Like, I didn't know who you were!'

“In turn, what was lovely, and the reason we brought up that conversation is because Jaedyn has a real ability to walk into a room and there are young players who now look up to her, who are of similar age.

“Without knowing we’d seen it, she went up and introduced herself to a young player and you could see these young players light up as if to go, 'I know who you are'.”

At the beginning of this whole journey, back in Jaedyn’s home city of Frisco, everyone knew that she was going to grow into this player that others would look up to.

When she was only a child, people would approach her mother and say: “We’re going to see her on TV one day.” Ann knew it, too.

It took sacrifice, from Jaedyn and from her family. It took hard work. It took perseverance. It took mental toughness. But now that talent is on the highest stage. Her mother can’t help but laugh, in disbelief, when she looks at the big picture.

“We have to continue to pinch ourselves,” she says. “All this is happening and all this is unfolding for her, finally. We just couldn't believe it. Not even a year back from her ACL surgery, she's blessed with this position to train here and there and wanted. It was just all these things. Like, what's going on?! It is very hard to describe.

“This is something that I dreamt for her, but I couldn't imagine it happening right in front of me. Seeing kids run her down and she's signing autographs in the stand. It wasn't imaginable to me.

“For me, it was just like, 'Okay, she dreams of this. It's going to happen'. But then when it's happening right in front of you… I'm like, 'What?! Is that her down there?!”

“Everybody can say this and that about a player,” Missimo says. “Everybody's got an opinion. But you have to go to the back story. How did that person get here? Why are we having this discussion? It's always that somebody is the wind beneath their wings.

“The wind is Ann. Jaedyn is flying because of her mother, and her father as well.”

She’ll be flying for some time yet, too.